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A year after Deepwater Horizon explosion, 3 survivors still struggling

By Chuck Hadad, CNN
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Three rig explosion survivors speak out
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Survivors say the scars from the disaster have taken their lives away
  • Medical records: Survivors have been diagnosed with multiple mental issues
  • One says he wakes up screaming from nightmares
  • Transocean says its focus is on providing support for employees

(CNN) -- For some survivors of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, escaping the inferno of the doomed rig made them feel like they'd cheated death.

But living with the scars of what they witnessed that night, and the memory of the 11 men who perished when the rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana a year ago, has in many ways taken their lives away.

"I remember feeling invincible when it first happened. I remember driving in my truck on the way home after the rig exploded and (I) pushed the gas (pedal) to the floor and never let off it," says Daniel Barron.

But the high Barron felt from surviving didn't last long.

"You have that guilty conscience of, 'Okay, I made it, that's great, but then these guys didn't.' Was there something I could have done to save more people?"

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Barron says his guilt is compounded by physical and mental issues that are a result of the disaster.

He suffers from memory loss, and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, according to medical records provided to CNN.

He witnessed one of his good friends, whom he calls a "fallen brother," die right in front of him when a second explosion rocked the rig.

"It literally picked him up . . . like a child would throw a toy . . . and he ended up bouncing off of the pedestal for the crane," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper shortly after the disaster.

"Just to see him get blown up like that, I mean, it was, it's heart-wrenching," Barron said.

Barron says one night, the psychological pain and the guilt of surviving when so many friends did not, became overwhelming.

"I had a 6-shot pistol and I just wanted it to be over," he says.

His wife discovered him playing Russian roulette and persuaded him to hand over the gun before it was too late.

Douglas Brown, one of Barron's fellow survivors, also speaks of the guilt of surviving the disaster.

"I am thankful that I, I made it out alive but a lot of times, I don't -- there's a lot of times where I feel I should, I should have died there too, along with my friends," Brown said.

Like Barron, Brown has been diagnosed with multiple mental issues including PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression and anxiety, according to medical records.

A third survivor, Matthew Jacobs, says he thinks of the 11 victims of the Deepwater Horizon every day and wakes up screaming from nightmares where he's re-living the explosions.

"It's something that I just can't quit, you know, get out of my head," he says.

Jacobs first told the story of his harrowing escape to Cooper in the weeks after the disaster. He expected to die as his lifeboat, which was being lowered 75 feet down from the rig, was filling with smoke and started to free-fall after another explosion.

"I prayed for my family to let God know that I love my wife and that I love my kids," he said.

In the year since, Jacobs and his wife have started divorce proceedings because of his mental issues including, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, he says.

Those mental issues are also corroborated by medical records provided to CNN.

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All three survivors say their physical and mental injuries have left them unable to work and they're suing their employer Transocean for lost wages and pain and suffering.

While technically still employees, they have not set foot on a rig since the disaster and their employer stopped paying their salaries last December. They accuse Transocean of valuing profits over safety prior to the accident, and of valuing minimizing monetary losses over the welfare of its employees after it.

In a statement, Transocean responded to their allegations writing: "From the first hours, Transocean has focused on providing support for its employees and the families of those who were lost aboard the Deepwater Horizon, including continued full pay and benefits for eight months following the incident and professional counseling for those in need. Today, more than one third of the Deepwater Horizon crew are back to work at Transocean and the entire company continues to be inspired by their courage and commitment."

Transocean still pays for some of the three survivors' health care costs and gives them a small monthly stipend for room and board as required by law. The survivors were offered an additional six months of pay to drop any claims, but they declined, according to legal records provided to CNN.

On the anniversary of the disaster, the survivors say they hope to one day put the accident behind them but also hope people never forget the 11 men who died that night on the Deepwater Horizon.

"I would ask people just to remember them and pray for their families, because I know those families are still suffering," Brown says.

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